The Koeman era.
It has begun. No one knows how long it’ll last, yes, but it has kicked off relatively smoothly. Two impressive victories were followed by a somewhat frustrating draw at home, against a well-drilled Sevilla side. Some of Barça’s recurring problems did begin to show up that game, especially their nervousness in closing a game, and their dependence on Lionel Messi in initiating attacks. However, on the whole, it has been promising. While Barça were unable to attract all their transfer targets to the club in a timely fashion, the team is an decent position in terms of depth, and tactically.
Koeman has persisted with his staggered build-up, and the 4-2-3-1, and has looked to concentrate on more direct play opportunities, as compared to the slower build-up under Quique Setién. Moreover, he seems to stress on a tight, man-to-man press with an emphasis on bridging distance between individual players. Key to this press has been the double-pivot, alongside the two central attackers. Messi and Philippe Coutinho have often functioned as central press triggers, with Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong often cleaning up and doubling up on the resultant receivers. This press is really quite key to Koeman’s game, which is centered around quick turnovers and moving attacks against the run of play. There’s less of an emphasis on outright possession, but closer positioning between players means that the line is as high as usual.
This slight shift towards directness, and the seemingly permanent addition of Ansu Fati, has made the team look more cohesive, and less narrow. This has, in turn, led to early signs of independence from Messi-based attacking play. This was especially evident in the first two games, where collective play was its best, and less so in the draw against Sevilla. In the Sevilla game, Barça panicked when they couldn’t score and started punting the ball to Messi. It shows that work is still to be done. Koeman is making progress, but there are major deficiencies in the squad, many of which are beyond the scope of the manager.
The important thing for us culés is to temper expectations. This is a squad in transition, and it’s prudent to be patient. Koeman himself should look to blood in the youngsters while maintaining a healthy balance between progress and results. That would be more than ideal. Just remember, 8-2 was not long ago. Francisco Trincão, Pedri, Sergino Dest and Miralem Pjanić are all new. Coutinho, too, looks ready for a bigger role. It’s all about patience, and culés don’t usually have that.